Ebbw look to make a big statement against Keys on their return to the big time

FRIEND TURNED FOE: Dorian Jones will pull the strings for Cross Keys against his old Ebbw Vale teammates

FRIEND TURNED FOE: Dorian Jones will pull the strings for Cross Keys against his old Ebbw Vale teammates

First published in Sport by

EBBW Vale coach Jason Strange says his side need to cope with the pressure when they make their return to the big time against Cross Keys tomorrow afternoon.

The pair clash at Pandy Park in the Gwent semi-finals of the British and Irish Cup qualifiers with the winners going on to play either Newport or Bedwas.

The Steelmen have spent the last four years in the second-tier of Welsh club rugby but now, after finally being rewarded with promotion back to the Principality Premiership, have the carrot of clashes with Cornish Pirates, Bedford and Doncaster.

“I know the potential of the club and it would be great to see some top English clubs here again,” said Strange.

To do that they will have to triumph against a Keys side that finished second to Pontypridd in both the Principality Premiership and Swalec Cup last season.

Strange said: “It’s a tough challenge and one that we are really excited by. Both teams are coming into this on the back of very successful seasons but that will count for very little this weekend.

“It’s really important that we deal with the pressure that Cross Keys will put us under and we have to do the fundamentals well.

“We’ve got plenty of competition for places throughout our squad, as has been shown in pre-season, and selection has been tough because everyone wants to be involved.”

Keys have played in the cross-border competition for the last three seasons and will be keen to show they are Gwent’s top dogs.

But head coach Greg Woods is wary of an Ebbw Vale side that pushed them to the limit last time they met, when Keys edged through on try count after a 19-19 Swalec Cup semi-final draw at Rodney Parade in 2012.

“It’s going to be a really tough game and a great way to start the season,” said Woods. “Ebbw Vale have quite rightly been promoted after waiting four years and they are a very strong unit.

“But we are a quality side as well and there has been minimal movement this summer – we have just got to get better at what we have been doing.

“We have got some of the best boys in their positions in the Premiership and they have done well in cup competitions over recent years.

“It’s going to be a great challenge and we have to be mentally switched on from the off, because it could well be a tight one.”

Flanker Scott Matthews and former Ebbw fly-half Dorian Jones, who have dual contracts with Keys and Newport Gwent Dragons, are set to start but the hosts are without Leon Andrews.

The influential centre is unavailable so number eight Adam Powell captains the side.

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